Feb 23, 2020

Utopian society

Everyone who has taken a psychology class probably recognizes the name B.F. Skinner, a scientist who is known for discovering operate conditioning and for studying the behavioral responses of animals and people to reinforcement.

Few, however, are familiar with Skinner as a social visionary – but that’s exactly what his daughter brought to campus.

Last Tuesday, Feb. 19, Skinner’s daughter Julie Vargas and son-in-law Ernest Vargas came to Fresno State as part of the psychology department’s lecture series.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) program coordinator Criss Wilhite said that she met the Vargases years ago at a behavioral analysis conference; they asked her last summer to host the event.

“The Vargases asked me last summer to head the Archival Committee of the B.F. Skinner Foundation, and I accepted,” Wilhite said.

The Archival Committee consists of six Fresno State students and four professors from other universities. Wilhite said the committee’s job is to conserve the work of Skinner and make it available to the public and to scholars.

The focus of the Vargases lecture was Skinner’s utopian novel, “Walden Two.” The main concepts they presented compared the novel’s characters, and how they interact and contribute in their society, with the current system of democracy.

The first topic discussed was the rights of the individual versus the rights of the group and how society could be harmonious and keep individuals within it happy at the same time.

“We’re right in the middle of this issue right now,” Ernest Vargas said. “What is the proper balance between protecting the civil order of this society from terrorist action and preventing the rights of the individual from being degraded and their civil liberties intruded? This is exactly what ‘Walden Two’ is about.”

The social systems in “Walden Two” are said to be ideal, and included society taking on the role of parents instead of individual families, and a government system where all members have direct face-to-face input with policies.

“Just think if you lived in a community where you bumped into George Bush or Nancy Pelosi and could talk to them about their policies and the direction that they’re taking,” Ernest Vargas said. “That would be much more powerful and effective than going to the ballot box every couple of years.”

Another point made by Julie Vargas was that people in American society get paid less for undesirable jobs, wherein “Walden Two” characters earn work credits and receive more from doing “lowly” jobs.

“In our society, people who have the lousiest jobs get paid the least,” Julie Vargas said. “In ‘Walden Two’ the system is such that you are given work credits for essentially the least desirable jobs.”

These are just a few of the many principles in “Walden Two” shared by Skinner’s daughter and son-in-law.

The society in “Walden Two,” however, cannot be accomplished at a national scale, the Vargases said, but the principles can still be used in all types of relationships.

“All the principles in ‘Walden Two’ can be used in any setting,” Julie Vargas said. “Whatever situation, you can apply Skinner’s ideas.”

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